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Chinese Medicine: A Brief History
Chinese Medicine: What is It?


A TCM practitioner will ask you questions about your emotional and mental life, as well as your physical symptoms. Knowing whether you are indecisive or have an explosive temper may help him determine what type of gallbladder trouble you’re having, for example. He or she may also take your pulse several times, once for each internal organ, and check the color and texture of your tongue, and then craft a customized treatment designed to enhance your overall health, rather than zeroing in on an infection or injury.

In most cases, your practitioner will use acupuncture to stimulate certain points along your body’s energy meridians to bring your qi (“chee” or life force energy) back into balance. But he might also apply small mounds of burning herbs (a technique called moxibustion) or suction cups (cupping), or use deep tissue massage. Then he may prescribe a combination of herbs and other ingredients designed to correct whatever imbalances he thinks are causing your troubles. Typically, you’ll brew these herbs into a strong-tasting tea, or they may come in pill or extract form. Finally, your practitioner may recommend that you try practicing Qigong or T’ai Chi – slow, gentle martial arts that combine breathing, movement, and meditation to balance and strengthen your qi.

The philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine is preventive in nature and views the practice of waiting to treat a disease until the symptoms are full-blown as being similar to “digging a well after one has become thirsty.” In compliance with this, TCM makes a point of educating the patient with regard to lifestyle so that the patient can assist in his or her own therapeutic process. The TCM practitioner educates the patient about diet, exercise, stress management, rest and relaxation.

As Traditional Chinese Medicine views the human body as a reflection of the natural world – the part containing the whole – the TCM doctor thinks and speaks in analogies with nature. The flows of energy and fluids in the body are spoken of as channels and rivers, seas and reservoirs. A diagnosis might describe the body in terms of the elements – wind, heat, cold, dryness, dampness. Despite this poetic language, TCM is not a folk medicine, but a professional discipline based on a complete system of thought.

The terms yin and yang are used by the TCM practitioner to describe the various opposing physical conditions of the body. These terms stem from a basic Chinese concept describing the interdependence and relationship of opposites. Much as hot cannot be understood or defined without first having experienced cold, yin cannot exist without its opposite yang, and yang cannot exist without yin. Together, the two complementary poles form a whole.

During your first visit for acupuncture, the practitioner may ask you at length about your health condition, lifestyle and behavior. The practitioner will want to obtain a complete picture of your treatment needs and behaviors that may contribute to your condition. Inform the acupuncturist about all treatments or medications you are taking and all medical conditions you have.

Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid and hair thin. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain as the needles are inserted. Some people feel energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment. This is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner. Treatment may take place over a period of several weeks or more.

Community Acupuncture clinics consist of rooms with recliners, soft music, soft lighting and sleeping patients. Needles are placed in lower arms and lower legs, ears and head. Charges for treatment are from $15 -$40 per treatment, with an additional $10-15 for the first visit. The patient decides what is affordable for them to pay. Since it often takes five to 20 treatments to resolve an issue, many more people find this type of acupuncture affordable and successful.

Larry and Grace Gilmer have been receiving acupuncture treatments for more than a decade, and both have found great relief from the treatments. Larry suffers from trigeminal neuralgia, a condition of the nerve responsible for most facial sensation, and Grace from scoliosis, an abnormal curvature or rotation of the spine. Both conditions cause intense pain, and Larry in particular was struggling to control that pain. The Gilmers’ daughter eventually suggested that Larry try acupuncture, so they looked into the treatments.

“Western medicine wasn’t controlling the pain for Larry’s trigeminal neuralgia,” explains Grace. “So we spoke with his neurologist and he thought it would be okay to try acupuncture.”

Larry started the treatments, and surprising to him, acupuncture did something that Western medicine was unable to do – make the intense pain go away. After witnessing the improvement, Grace decided to try acupuncture in hopes of relieving the pain of her scoliosis. The treatments helped her pain, as well.

“Oriental medicine is very interesting,” Grace says. “It focuses on the entire body. If you have trouble sleeping, they will work on that; if you have pain or headaches, they’ll work on that. It covers a multitude of ailments.”

“They look beyond your main complaints, and look at how the rest of your body is functioning,” Larry says. “They find out how you are, and treat your whole body.

Most Chinese people in China do not see traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine as being in conflict. In cases of emergency and crisis situations, there is generally no reluctance in using conventional Western medicine. At the same time, belief in Chinese medicine remains strong in the area of maintaining health.

As a simple example, you see a Western doctor if you have acute appendicitis, but you exercise or take Chinese herbs to keep your body healthy enough to prevent appendicitis, or to recover more quickly from the surgery. Very few practitioners of Western medicine in China reject traditional Chinese medicine, and most doctors in China will use some elements of Chinese medicine in their own practice. A degree of integration between Chinese and Western medicine also exists in China. For instance, at the Shanghai cancer hospital, a patient may be seen by a multidisciplinary team and be treated concurrently with radiation surgery, Western drugs and a traditional herbal formula.


Sources: Wikipedia, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, AHealthyMe.com, www.purifymind.com, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Northwestern Health Sciences University, Ann Mongeau, L.Ac., R.N., www.online-ambulance.com

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